Learning at the feet of the master

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Many teachers must have grappled with Vygotsky, Piaget or Bloom and thought: "If only I could ask them what they're talking about"

Such a wish came true for 16 Scottish educators when they travelled to Israel to meet a world-renowned educational thinker, whose ideas are becoming increasingly prominent in classrooms over here.

Reuven Feuerstein is a pioneer of the idea that intelligence can be taught. His theory of "instrumental enrichment" has had impressive results with underachieving and special needs children.

The Scottish Continuing International Professional Development programme, run by Learning and Teaching Scotland, organised a five-day trip to meet the professor and several colleagues in Jerusalem. The Scottish group included primary and secondary teachers, senior managers, educational psychologists and a quality improvement officer. Some had been using Professor Feuerstein's theories for years; others had a vague knowledge of his work.

George Gilchrist, headteacher at Jedburgh's Parkside Primary, recalls that the first session was with the professor himself: "Although he is now 88 years old, his mind is still very sharp and we listened, fascinated, as he expounded on his theories and practice developed over the previous 50 or so years."

A key message was that "chromosomes don't have the last word": all pupils are "modifiable".

Mr Gilchrist, who believes many of the professor's messages fit easily with Curriculum for Excellence, said: "Feuerstein's work started out aimed at helping children whom the rest of the education system had given up on, but what he soon realised is that the approaches he used could enhance all learners' development, including the most gifted."

Susan Gray, a support teacher at Galashiels Academy, said it had been a "privilege" to spend time with Professor Feuerstein during the February trip: "The dedication and time he still spends helping children were truly inspirational."

Elizabeth Spence, a secondary teacher in Orkney, knew nothing of Feuerstein beforehand, but his self-described "pathological optimism" was "contagious", and she arrived back home "bursting with enthusiasm" to share ideas.

Organisers are considering running another Feuerstein trip.

This trip to Jerusalem will be explored in more detail on June 5, in a special CPD issue of The TESS.

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